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9 Ways to Show Your Teacher Appreciation

May 5, 2015

By Maureen Powers

9 Ways to Show Your Teacher Appreciation | National Teacher Day May 5 | National Teacher Appreciation Week May 4-8 | #ThankATeacher

Children in the U.S. spend an average of 900 hours in school each year. That is a lot of time! Teachers play such a huge role in our children’s lives that special teacher appreciation days are scheduled around the globe to recognize them. This week is Teacher Appreciation Week in the United States and today we celebrate National Teacher Day.

The National Education Association describes National Teacher Day as "a day for honoring teachers and recognizing the lasting contributions they make to our lives." Think about all the special things your own child’s teacher has done this year.

How can you show that special teacher how much you appreciate what he or she does for your child without spending a lot of money?

  • Give a special handwritten note of appreciation from you or your child
  • Gift a picture of your child and the teacher in a pretty frame 
  • Donate your time to cut out projects or copy papers
  • Gift coupons the teacher can cash in for help in the classroom, especially at the end of the year
  • Make homemade cards 
  • Ask your child to give the teacher hugs throughout the week
  • Gift drawings and other artwork created by your child
  • Donate books for the classroom
  • Share a small token of appreciation for every day of the week

What else can you do? Visit the National Education Association website to meet the 2015 Teacher of the Year Shanna Peeples, to download celebration artwork and videos for special events, and even applaud your favorite teacher on social media for a chance to win $100!

If you are feeling crafty, check out Pinterest for creative ways to show you care.

Whatever you decide to do, take a moment to let the special teacher in your life know how much you appreciate his or her hard work.

Looking for activities that will help your child grow to his or her potential? Check out our YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books, now available on Amazon

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Teaching Children Empathy with a Family Pet

April 30, 2015

By Ana Vela

Teaching Children Empathy with a Family Pet | Mariana and her dog strike look-alike poses for the camera. Having a pet can teach both babies and even teenagers empathy.

Photograph of Manitas and Mariana (left to right) by Ana Vela. 

No matter how much my siblings and I pleaded while growing up, my parents did not allow us to have a dog. Which is why I was shocked when my parents decided to get my younger sister a dog once I left home for college. I guess you could say Cookie was “replacing me” so my sister wouldn’t feel alone after my departure. At first I was a bit upset, but I quickly saw the positive impact Cookie was having on my sister—she was teaching her empathy.

There are many ways to define empathy, but according to a review in the International Journal of Caring Sciences, “empathy is the ‘capacity’ to share and understand another’s ‘state of mind’ or emotion.” Empathy is a component of Emotional Intelligence (EI). EI can be critical to your child’s success in school and later in life because it includes skills, as described in this review, in “perception, expression and control of emotions, self-control and empathy, communication, conflict resolution process, conscience, and perhaps many more.” Many studies argue that a person’s EI can be more important for success than IQ. Educators also see the value of teaching children empathy, as demonstrated in the wave of new school programs that help promote this skill in the classroom.

Empathy should be promoted at home, and having a family pet such as a dog can be a great avenue for teaching this skill to your child. Other benefits include building responsibility and living a healthier lifestyle. Here are some practical ways you can guide your child’s practice of empathy with your family pet:

Take care of a pet’s needs.
Your child can learn empathy by taking care of a pet’s needs, such as feeding, bathing, vet visits, providing medicine, and caring for the pet when it is sick. He or she will become considerate of the pet’s scheduled needs, and feel compassion when the pet is not well. My sister quickly became Cookie’s advocate and made sure she had everything she needed, which led to her eventually advocating for others.

Show the pet affection.
Your child can learn to express his or her emotions through affection with the pet. Teach him or her to gently pet, hug, and if you are okay with it, even kiss the pet. A dog will naturally reciprocate, which will validate your child’s self esteem and help him or her express affection with others.

My parents were not very affectionate people, but once Cookie entered our lives, it was amazing how quickly affection just flowed out of everyone in our family. She became an avenue for us to express ourselves without feeling judged.

Provide everyday joys for the pet.
Your child can learn what makes their pet happy. Most dogs love walks and playing games such as fetch. Guide your child to safely play with the pet and encourage making it happy. Your child will be able to better read others’ emotions and will develop a desire to make others happy. I remember my sister would find the most creative ways to play with Cookie and developed positive social skills when playing with other children.

Encourage communication with the pet.
Your child can learn to develop positive communication skills with the pet. Guide your child to practice communication by being polite, describing and talking about their day, talking during play, and even reading to the pet. Because a pet will never judge, children can develop confidence in communication and learn to listen to others. When I would talk to my sister over the phone while I was away in college, I noticed how her communication skills had improved as she described her adventures with Cookie.

Remember that as parents, we set the example for how a child should treat the family pet. I had three dogs in my home prior to the birth of our now 10-month-old daughter. Although I wasn’t directly teaching her how to interact with the dogs, I quickly realized how much she was learning from observing me. I was surprised when I first saw her gently pet one of the dogs on the head when she was about four months old. Eventually she was giving them hugs and laughing with them. And now she is learning to play with the dogs.

With a family pet, always practice safety with their interactions with children. Cookie is 15 years old now and still bringing joy to my sister and our family. I, too, am enjoying using the three furry members of our family to teach my infant empathy and am looking forward to creating long-lasting memories.

For more ways to foster your child's emotional and social well-being, check out our YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books, now available on Amazon

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Why Testing Matters to Your Child’s Education

April 14, 2015

By Maureen Powers

Why Testing Matters to Your Child’s Education | Standardized tests aren't just an annoyance to parents, students, and teachers-- they're critical for state funding. Learn why these tests matter for your child's education. | A student fills in the multiple choice circles with a pencil on a test.

It’s spring and your child’s school is gearing up for standardized state assessments. Children are stressed, teachers are tense, and everyone just wants to get through testing season. Is all this anxiety necessary? Yes! Schools and teachers have a lot to lose if standardized assessments are not taken seriously.

By law, every state in the U.S. must administer state achievement tests to measure what students know and are able to do. The operating budgets in many school districts are often determined by the results of student growth on state standardized assessments. Many public schools have adopted performance pay, which gives teachers additional money if their students score well. In short, more money in schools means your children will be more likely to receive a better education.

Now that you know why these tests are so important to your child’s overall education, what can you do to help?

  • Make sure your child is in attendance all days of testing. Many schools are penalized for poor student attendance, which will affect funding.
  • Encourage your child to do his or her best and express your confidence in him or her. Anxiety and fear of failure can affect test performance.
  • With your child, explore the test questions for the standardized assessment in your state well in advance of the test. Cramming is not a good strategy, as these tests measure knowledge gained over time, not simple facts.
  • The assessment results are often available only after school is out for summer vacation. Make an appointment to speak with your child’s teacher at the beginning of the new school year to go over the results of the standardized assessments so you know your student’s strengths and opportunities for improvement and you are in a better position to advocate for him or her.
  • Visit the US Department of Education website for additional ways to help your child succeed.

By knowing why these standardized tests matter and how they can impact your child’s education, you can hopefully use these tips to help your child study and perform to the best of his or her ability.

Want more tips on preparing your child for academic success? Our YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books help parents from birth through high school graduation and beyond. Now available on Amazon

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Diagnosing + Managing Cerebral Palsy in Young Children

March 24, 2015

By Noralba Martinez

Diagnosing + Managing Cerebral Palsy in Young Children | Ribbon image courtesy of Children's Neurobiological Solutions

Tomorrow is National Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day. As an early intervention specialist and licensed professional counselor for an Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) program in Texas, I have worked with many children with cerebral palsy. It’s very important to know that there is still light and hope that comes with this diagnosis. Part of that hope comes in early intervention, when you learn more about the diagnosis, how to accommodate any necessary changes, and start treatment. 

Adam poses for his school picture.

One story that I find particularly inspiring is about a boy named Adam. Adam was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when he was about two years old. His mother was told he would never walk, but thanks to the awesome team of people who work with and believe in him, he started walking when he was three and a half years old.

In Texas, where I live, a cerebral palsy diagnosis is considered an automatic medical qualifier for ECI services, which means that these children can receive free or reduced price treatments. Luckily, Adam has been able to receive therapy from ECI services thanks to this qualifier. Therapy has given Adam the opportunity to do things some people never thought he would. Check with your local ECI program to see if it’s the same in your area.

About the Disorder

  • Cerebral palsy (CP) is a diagnosis that is given when several permanent movement disorders appear. 
  • Cerebral palsy is caused by damage to or abnormal development of parts of the brain that can affect balance, movement, and posture, among other functions.

Cerebral Palsy Symptoms

  • Symptoms include: gross motor delays as a baby, stiff or floppy muscles, lack of coordination, oral movement difficulty, trouble speaking, sensory problems, difficulty walking, and tremors.
  • Severity and symptoms vary between each person with CP.
  • Symptoms are more noticeable in the first years of life, so be sure to schedule and attend all well-baby check-ups for regular screenings.

Diagnosis and Treatment

  • Early diagnosis of cerebral palsy is key to begin treatment and therapy to alleviate the severity of some symptoms. 
  • Early intervention therapy, coaching, and support are available for CP children and their families.

For Adam, treatment includes his mother and therapy team encouraging him daily to keep pushing himself. They make adaptations so he can do things independently and they look for assistive technology so he can speak and make his own requests. As you can see, Adam has made tremendous strides thanks to ECI services and treatment.

Now that you’ve taken the time to learn more about cerebral palsy, show your support tomorrow by wearing green to bring awareness to this disorder.

If you suspect your child may suffer from cerebral palsy, speak to your pediatrician right away. Early diagnosis is critical in treating this disease.

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Deal a Royal Flush of Family Fun

March 19, 2015

By Jessica Vician

Deal a Royal Flush of Family Fun | Playing card games is a great opportunity for family bonding with kids of all ages. Try it this spring break and see what you learn about your kids. | A photo shows a father playing cards with his daughter and son.

It’s spring break time, and you know what that means: lots of time with your kids. Whether you’re taking a vacation or a staycation, there’s probably a lot of down time and the kids could quickly be complaining, “I’m bored!”

Fret not. I have the solution to all of your problems. Okay, maybe not all of them, but to the boredom problem. Card games. That’s right. That simple deck of 52 cards or a box of Uno can go a long way. The genius of playing card games with your kids lies in the process.

You start by trying to teach them a game. Explain the rules and try a few practice rounds to help each other learn. This first part makes everyone a little uncomfortable, because you’re trying to remember the rules. And if you’re playing with teenagers, they’re getting over the fact that this is so uncool but also kind of fun.

Then the real game begins. Each person is strategizing, using his or her brain, reading other players’ faces and interpreting their strategies, and the competitive drive to win is building. You’re getting to know each other in a different way—seeing how each of you learns, how you act when frustrated or happy, and how competitive each of you is. You’re bonding.

And that, my friends, is the goal of the game. Card games can be simple or complex, but they’re inexpensive conversation starters for your family. They’re learning opportunities for young kids—building fine motor skills, learning math and colors, participating in social interaction—but can adapt as your kids age. You can learn new, more complicated games together as your kids grow, and by the time they’re teenagers, you’ll be aching for some good old-fashioned family fun.

As a teen, I played card or board games with my family when the power went out and we had nothing to do but hang out in candlelight. And even though I was always hammering to get out of the house to see my friends, I genuinely had a good time.

Even as an adult, card games remain a great opportunity for bonding. When I first met my now father- and stepmother-in-law, I felt awkward because I didn’t think we had much in common. Toward the end of our week-long visit, we started playing card games after dinner and I left that trip having a strong understanding of who they are as individuals, as a couple, and as parents to my partner. Everyone loosened up and I learned that we have much more in common than I had imagined. My only regret is that we didn’t play cards on the first night—I would have been much more relaxed if we had.

So during this spring break, or any future vacations or electricity-free nights due to summer storms, gather your kids around the dinner or coffee table and play a card game together as a family. Invite your kids’ friends if you want to get to know them better. You’ll all learn a little more and appreciate each other by the end of the game.

Find more ideas on spending quality time with your kids, no matter their age, in the YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books. 

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